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Obamacare blitz: Can US persuade young 'invincibles' to buy health coverage?

Success of the Affordable Care Act could hang on whether about 2 million young and healthy Americans will buy coverage starting Oct. 1, thereby ensuring the viability of the insurance pools. It's a steep climb, made harder by Obamacare foes working to talk them out of it.

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"We're meeting [the uninsured] where they are, whether it's a barbershop or beauty salon, or a back-to-school program where we can meet young parents," says Ashley Allison, the organization's director of constituency engagement.

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It's Ms. Allison's job to reach out to specific constituencies, including young Americans; women; African-Americans; Hispanics; the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community; and some faith groups.

The organization is also taking a page out of the Obama micro-targeting book. Its data and analytics team crafted a formula from census data, commercially available consumer databases, and demographic information to help identify where the uninsured live. So far, team members say, the tool has been very effective in leading them to knock on the right doors.

Tax credits and education to woo the wary

Jen Mishory is deputy director of the Young Invincibles, a nonprofit dedicated to helping young adults get health insurance. Started by young adults and taken from the insurance industry name for young people who believe they don't need health insurance, the group organizes grass-roots outreach and education.

"One thing we've seen, that you see across the board in polls, is that there's not this disinterest in health insurance," she says. "It's not that people don't want coverage. For the most part it's the inability for people to afford coverage. There haven't been that many affordable options in the past."

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in June found that 77 percent of 18-to-25-year-olds and 71 percent of 26-to-30-year-olds say it's very important to them personally to have health insurance. When asked if insurance is worth the money it costs, the answer dropped a tick among 18-to-25-year-olds, and fell six percentage points among 26-to-30-year-olds, the group no longer eligible to remain on their parents' insurance.

Ms. Mishory emphasizes the availability of federal tax credits to help subsidize the cost of insurance as a major new benefit of the ACA. Tax subsidies will be available for single individuals who make between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, which is between $11,490 and $45,960 in 2013 dollars for an individual. People making below the poverty line may be eligible for Medicaid.

That means that a single 29-year-old nonsmoker making $28,000 a year can expect a tax-credit subsidy of just over $1,000, but would still have to pay $182 per month for a mid-level plan, according to a cost calculator by the Kaiser Family Foundation. If they buy a less comprehensive plan, they'll pay $135 a month after the subsidy, according to the calculator, which is based on Congressional Budget Office estimates.

If that same 29-year-old made $35,000, the cost calculator estimates they'd qualify for a subsidy of as much as only $52 a year. The remaining $229 per-month premium for the least comprehensive plan would come out of pocket.

When grouped with rent, groceries, smartphone costs, student loans, and other bills young adults often pay, that $229 premium may not fit in the budget.

Additionally, young adults are much less likely to be familiar with health insurance to begin with. Young adults make up the highest percentage of the uninsured, and an August Gallup poll found that 18-to-34-year-olds were the least familiar with the ACA out of all adults; more than 1 in 3 say they are not too familiar or not at all familiar with the law.

"We don't teach health insurance literacy in high school," Mishory says. "It's also a challenge to make sure ... [young adults understand] things like what is a premium, what is a deductible."

Young Invincibles plans on training more than 1,000 community groups on education and outreach strategies and has developed an app to send reminders of key registration dates.

'Young people know a bad deal'


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